Review: Inversion

There is nothing wrong with borrowing from a successful franchise, or even shamelessly aping large parts of beloved games so long as it is done well. Darksiders demonstrates this principle by being a hybrid between Legacy of Kain and Legend of Zelda. Inversion’s infatuation seems to be with the Gears of War franchise, but does it do what Gears did in a way that is as endearing?

Developer: Saber Interactive
Publisher: Namco Bandai
ESRB Rating: M
Released: June 5, 2012 [NA], June 13 [EU]
Platforms: PS3, Xbox 360, PC
Version Reviewed: Xbox 360

From the onset of the game, Inversion holds a lot of promise. It almost paints itself as a story about regret accumulated over the span of a lifetime. The pace at which this facade crumbles is dizzying. Within the first hour of the game the developers managed to trump all of the self-oblivious pulp of the death of Dom’s wife from Gears 2. The conceit of telling an interesting story is abandoned with all haste and the game becomes another cover shooter.

Which isn’t necessarily a terrible thing provided it has the chops to do something interesting. The underlying problem is that it doesn’t. It’s gameplay hardly qualifies as adequate. As I pointed out earlier, Inversion can be summed up as a Gears of War clone, albeit a far inferior one. Spongy enemies, grunting tree-stumps on legs, weapons that behave much like the lancer with its chainsaw bayonet, a stunted color palette, dodge rolling, cover shooting, the air of taking itself too seriously, and the dude-brotagonists are all here.

The core mechanics that it lifts from Gears, and every other third-person cover based shooter that has come out in the past several years, are just of sub-standard quality. There exists a very clear input delay between pulling the trigger and a bullet leaving the barrel of your gun. Dodge rolling feels floaty. None of the encounters or enemy types are even slightly memorable, nor are the weapons. The gameplay is totally second-rate.

It’s co-op elements aren’t well thought out, they are just the typical semi-rare single button press sequences shoe-horned in to justify calling the interaction cooperative. In fact, the only good reason to play this game cooperatively is to avoid the rage-inducing scenarios that crop up due to the very vulnerable AI partner getting himself downed constantly in positions that are nearly impossible to rescue him from, or at least very difficult while still making any notable progress in the level.

Of course, the game also has its own unique gimmick, but that does nothing to make the experience more enjoyable, nor does it contribute to giving the game its own unique voice. That is among Inversion’s greatest weaknesses; it lacks its own voice. It is utterly unidentifable amidst the crowded gray-brown cover shooter market. It is the definition of homogeny. It is, unlike the game it would like to be, incapable of rising to the top – ironic given that the gimmick has to do with inverting gravity.

By utilizing a device that the antagonists inexplicably impart upon you – their prisoner – you are able to manipulate gravity. While that might sound exciting, it turns out to be a lot more pedestrian most of the time. Your usage of this power tends to boil down to solving simple point-and-press environmental puzzles and throwing rocks at bosses. Occasionally you’ll stumble upon a sequence that involves floating up in the air and having to launch yourself from one piece of floating cover to another while shooting bad guys. Sound familiar? That’s because it’s the exact same thing you do on the ground, except here you might have to wait a moment to orient yourself while the camera flips. It makes for a neat visual effect once, but doesn’t offer an interesting gameplay departure. In fact, the argument can be made that the game is worse off for that mechanic’s inclusion because you are even more restricted in your ability to navigate the world in the air with an extra axis thrown in than on the ground traversing only the X and Y planes.

If I have a single praise to sing about the game it is that the animations are fluid. Even that solitary bit of praise comes with a caveat, though. No emotion is presented through the faces of the characters, and this becomes apparent in the games overabundance of cutscenes. I don’t expect L.A. Noire level facial animation from every game, but we’re years passed the point where doing nothing with character faces at all is acceptable.

I wish I could speak in depth of the game’s multiplayer but that half of the game is already a barren wasteland. Instead, I will simply state that none of the modes are anything fresh, and my grievances with the gameplay don’t discriminate between single player and multiplayer.

Had Inversion provided more polished mechanics, I might merely be inclined to call it perfectly mediocre. However, it’s too weak for such praise. It is a me-too cover shooter with a flimsy gimmick, and is the most forgettable game of 2012 so far.

4.0 / 10

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